So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Classics of Western Literature: Bloom County 1986-1989

Classics of Western Literature: Bloom County 1986-1989 by Berke Breathed
This volume is a collection of the newspaper comic strip "Bloom County" from 1986-1989 including pages of four black and white daily four panel entries and pages of two full color 6 panel Sunday entries. If you are a fan, this book provides additionally an introduction called "Last Word" containing some biographical information, Breathed's first cartoon penned in the 10th grade, his one 1977 political cartoon for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, and 16 strips from his "Academia Waltz" submissions to the University of Texas' Daily Texan college newspaper in 1978-79. The fan who enjoys this volume may also want to read Berkeley Breathed's Outland: The Complete Collection which picks up where Bloom County leaves off in 1989 and contains all the Sunday color strips for "Outland" through it's end in 1995.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Barefoot Gen, Out of the Ashes

Barefoot Gen, Out of the Ashes by Keiji Nakazawa
Barefoot Gen, Out of the Ashes is the 4th volume of Keiji Nakazawa's autobiographical graphic novel series on living through the atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima. The atom bomb has been dropped on Hiroshima, destroying most of the city, killing many people, and causing others to become sick with radiation sickness. Gen's hair has fallen out from radiation exposure. He, his mother, and his newborn sister, no longer able to live in Hiroshima, are refugees in the town of Eba.

As this volume opens, the Emperor has just announced the surrender of Japan. Gen's two brothers return to live with them in Eba, one from the Navy and one from an evacuation camp. US soldiers are landing to study the results of the bomb. The distrust and hatred of the local community eventually becomes too much and the family moves back to what is left of Hiroshima. We see the U.S. occupation and the rebuilding of the city through the eyes of seven year old Gen.

Gen's compassion, humanity, and determination make this an inspiring book about the strength of the human spirit. The close loving values of his family are in sharp contrast to the amoral self interest of the black marketeers and the criminals who thrive in the disorder and poverty.

The work has been wonderfully translated from the Japanese original: Hadashi no Gen. It was originally published in serial form in 1972 and 1973 in Shukan Shonen Jampu, the largest weekly comic magazine in Japan, with a circulation of over two million. The drawings are all in black and white. This US edition was published as part of a movement to translate the book into other languages and spread its message. It is a powerful testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the horrors of nuclear war. There are a few introductory essays at the front of the book that help to put this book into perspective. It is a tragic but uplifting story that I highly recommend for anyone interested in the topic. This and the other volumes in the series are important books for their message on the dangers of nuclear war.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

The Pocket Bible or Christian the Printer, A Tale of the Sixteenth Century

The Pocket Bible or Christian the Printer, A Tale of the Sixteenth Century by Eugene Sue
The Pocket Bible or Christian the Printer, A Tale of the Sixteenth Century is the 16th and 17th book of Eugene Sue's 20 volume series The Mysteries of the People; or History of a Proletarian Family Across the Age. The series was created to be a European history that depicts the struggle between the ruling and the ruled classes. One family, the descendants of a Gallic chief named Joel, represent the oppressed and the descendants of a Frankish chief Neroweg, typifies the oppressors. Down through the ages the successive struggles between oppressors and oppressed are depicted in a series of stories that culminate in the European Revolutions of 1848.

Volume 1 of The Pocket Bible, named The Society of Jesus, is set in Paris in the year 1534 and depicts the historic events of the struggle between the Catholic church and the Reformation. This is the year that both Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus which is known today as the Jesuits, and John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, are both in Paris. While neither stay in Paris long, they both are represented in this tale of Christian the Printer and his family who have embraced Calvin's teachings only to be caught up in persecution for their beliefs by the king and the Catholics.

Volume 2, named The Huguenots, takes place 34 years later in 1569 in the protestant city of La Rochelle where Christian's grandson Antonicq is an armorer as they come under attack by Catholic forces loyal to the king.

Both volumes of this novel document the excesses of the Catholic attempts to destroy the Huguenot minority in France. The author carefully footnotes many of the most horrific details of this persecution to prove that they really occurred. As such he has carefully inserted his Gallic family into this historic novel documenting the religious turbulence of 16th century France.

Each volume in this series has a preface by their translator, the Socialist publisher Daniel De Leon, that helps set the story in the history of the labor movement of the early 20th century when these books were first made available to American readers.

TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.
The epoch covered by this, the 16th story of Eugene Sue's dramatic historic series, entitled The Mysteries of the People; or, History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages, extends over the turbulent yet formative era known in history as the Religious Reformation.
The social system that had been developing since the epoch initiated by the 8th story of the series, The Abbatial Crosier; or, Bonaik and Septimine, that is, the feudal system, and which is depicted in full bloom in the 14th story of the series, The Iron Trevet; or, Jocelyn the Champion, had been since suffering general collapse with the approach of the bourgeois, or capitalist system, which found its first open, or political, expression in the Reformation, and which was urged into life by Luther, Calvin and other leading adversaries of the Roman Catholic regime.
The history of the Reformation, or rather, of the conflict between the clerical polity which symbolized the old and the clerical polity which symbolized the new social order, is compressed within the covers of this one story with the skill at once of the historian, the scientist, the philosopher and the novelist. The various springs from which human action flows, the various types which human crises produce, the virtues and the vices which great historic conflicts heat into activity—all these features of social motion, never jointly reproduced in works of history, are here drawn in vivid colors and present a historic canvas that is prime in the domain of literature. In view of the exceptional importance of some of the footnotes in which Sue refers the reader to the pages of original authorities in French cited by him, the pages of an accessible American edition are in those cases either substituted or added in this translation.
DANIEL DE LEON.
New York, February, 1910.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, Vol. 1

Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, Vol. 1 by Keiji Nakazawa

Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima is an autobiographical graphic novel series that has ten volumes which was written by Keiji Nakazawa and relates his experiences during and after the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. This first volume relates the experiences of Daikichi Nakaoka and his family from April 1945 to that historic and catastrophic day. He and his pregnant wife Kimie, and their five children Koji, Eiko, Akira, Gen, Shinji struggle to find food to eat as all supplies are shipped to the military to support the war effort. Their lives are complicated by his outspoken opposition to the war for which he is labelled a traitor. Throughout the book, he makes his feelings known.
"Japan will lose the war for sure." (p. 6)
"Japan can only survive by foreign trade. We should keep peace with the rest of the world." (p.13)
"The military was misled by the rich. They started the war to grab resources by force." (p.13)
"For poor people like us, war doesn't do one damn bit of good." (p. 18)
"It's because I love Japan that I'm against the war." (p. 32)
"War brings us nothing but misery. Japan has to walk the path of peace, not war." (p. 34)
"The only way to prevent war is to be friends with other people." (p. 74)
"The ones who started the war are to blame, but every citizen who willingly goes along with it is at fault also." (p. 168)

Mr. Nakaoka is taken to jail and beaten, his children are persecuted at school, the family is shunned, and their efforts to live are thwarted. The only friend they have is their Korean neighbor Mr. Pak who was brought to Hiroshima by force to work in a factory. The narrative progresses through the eyes of young 6 year old Gen and his little brother Shinji as they cry in hunger and devise methods to find and eat food.

The last 50 pages of the book that portray the events of August 6 leading up to and following the atomic bomb blast are the most compelling graphic novel content I have ever read. The story of how Gen's family survives is told in the subsequent volumes.

The work has been well translated from the Japanese original: Hadashi no Gen. It was originally published in serial form in 1972 and 1973 in Shukan Shonen Jampu, the largest weekly comic magazine in Japan, with a circulation of over two million. The drawings are all in black and white. It is a wonderful testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the horrors of nuclear war.

The book begins with an Introduction by the American cartoonist Art Spiegelman and A Note from the Author. These set this graphic novel series in perspective of the genre of autobiographical graphic novels for adults and the author's life. A publisher's note at the end tells the story of Project Gen, a movement to translate the book into other languages and spread around the world its message of the threat of nuclear war..